Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Science of Being a Teen: Blame My Brain; the amazing teenage brain revealed, by Nicola Morgan (London etc.: Walker Books, 2006).

Over the next week I’m going to review the short list for the Junior Aventis Prize Science Books, ending with the winner.

Blame My Brain: the amazing teenage brain revealed, by Nicola Morgan (London etc.: Walker Books, 2006).

Nicola Morgan (author of Mondays are Red and Sleepwalking sets out to talk to teenagers about their behaviour by giving them the latest information from neuroscience. Teenage tantrums are linked to the rapid growth of the amygdala, and teenage sleep patterns to the shift in body clock, and depression to the rapid changes in the dendrites.

Each section provides, a “scenario”, followed by the information, some quizzes (I particularly liked “can you identify the emotions on these faces”—I couldn’t), and the tone is straightforward and chatty, pitched at youngish teens I think.

Morgan clearly thinks teens can handle large amounts of information. In fact, she explains why and how they can. She also thinks that only information can create informed choice—the section on drugs and why they are a bad thing doesn’t have any “moral” content at all but is entirely about what drugs of different types do to the brain, and why the adolescent brain seems vulnerable to drug shaped learning pathways.

Because the book is focussed on neuroscience, Morgan can come over as rather essentialist about issues of behaviour and particularly gendered behaviour, but she takes a great deal of time and trouble to explain that it is a spectrum, that many girls thing boyishly and vice versa. She has one cool girl character who can swap specs on the MP3 player with all the boys. She clearly sees gender as in the head, not the body, and makes the point that not all girls will develop intellectually the way she describes, and not all boys will either.

So, why, oh why oh why, does she make this book utterly unusable by a simple and outrageous omission?

“Biology is strong in humans too, and most teenage girls do want to be attractive to boys (and the other way around)…” (125-126)

And that, folks, is as far as Morgan gets to admitting homosexuality exists.

I accept that Morgan isn’t interested in hormones, but there is an awful lot of work now on the neuroscience of male homosexuality (I don’t know of much for female). That this is a book on “the science” of being a teenager gives it a lot of cache, and influence, more than the general advice book might have.

This is 2006: and in 2006 to give this book to a closeted gay teen would simply reinforce a sense of isolation and invisibility, of not really existing. It’s not on.


Blogger Lee said...

An excellent point about homosexuality. However, I disagree about moral content. I think Morgan's chatty tone thinly disguises a very clear agenda, not just in the drugs section but in the book as a whole, and I'm not sure how appropriate this is for a science book.

11:31 PM  

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